Effective Communication – Managing and Documenting the File

Many client complaints to the Law Society stem from failures to effectively communicate. As a lawyer, your focus may be on the substantive work you are doing, but if you do not communicate effectively with the client, you risk misunderstandings and complaints. Ensure you confirm important instructions or client discussions in writing. This helps avoid miscommunication, deterioration of the lawyer-client relationship, and reports to the Law Society.

Consider carefully whether you want use text messaging as a method of communicating with clients. Cellular service providers may only keep records for a relatively short period of time. If you use text messaging with your client, you must have a system to keep a record of your communications for the file. You must also be able to prove that a client gave you instructions by text message. Email is a better choice.

If you do use text messaging for some communications, you should not use them for conveying substantial legal information; text messages are short and not designed for this level of information. Text messages also tend to lead to less formal communications and, in some cases, lawyers fall into the trap of using unprofessional or discourteous language when engaging with clients by text message. Texting may also lead the client to expect immediate responses from you at any time of the day or night.

Always confirm important discussions and client instructions in writing. While this can be challenging in a busy practice, once you are in the habit it will become second nature. Relatively frequent written updates to the client help prevent deterioration of the lawyer-client relationship and protect you if the client later claims you acted without instructions or misunderstood them. If a client reports you to the Law Society for acting without instructions, or for failing to act, having written records of significant discussions assists your case.

While ongoing communication with the client is important, too much or too frequent communication is costly to the client and distracts from your substantive work on the file. For instance, you might have a client who calls you all the time to micro-manage the file. Presumably, you have already advised the client at the initial meeting or in the retainer agreement that you charge for your time and frequent contacts are costly. If the behaviour persists, remind the client that you charge for your time, that these communications distract from your ability to move matters along expeditiously, and that frequent contacts will result in increased cost to the client. Be certain to document these communications.